I was asked today by my uncle and friend who works at a local news network, “What in the world are we going to do to stop misinformation?” His worry about the state of things; the world, the nation, his community, the ethics of journalism, had left him quite distressed all week.
I said that the spread of misinformation, and “fake news” was a systemic problem of the 21st century. But the history of misinformation is as old as Gutenberg’s printing press itself. As long as people have been publishing the truth, they have also been publishing propaganda to negate the truth.
Misinformation is nothing new; it has only manifested into a seemingly more threatening form, online.
Again, Misinformation is a systemic problem. I began to name off other systemic problems that came to mind: Mountain Top Removal, Climate Change, Child Marriage, Gentrification, Mass Incarceration. And like systemic problems, Misinformation as a phenomenon, pushes a dominant narrative.
For Mountaintop Removal, the dominant narrative in Kentucky is—Coal Keeps the Lights On.
For Climate Change, the dominant narrative is—“The weather seems fine here.” We forget that other environments like the Arctic are erratic when temperature changes by a single degree.
For Child Marriage, if you are in Ethiopia, the dominant narrative is that young women should not have a choice in IF and WHO they marry.
For Gentrification, the dominant narrative sees positivity in progress. Progress may also translate to “revitalization.” Beneficiaries of the process of gentrification use these words.
For Mass Incarceration, the dominant narrative that perpetuates the problem is “Let’s crack down on drug trafficking.” Cracking down, so to speak, disproportionately affects African Americans and Latinos in our country. Many lose their voting rights for minor drug offenses. Private prisons, as institutions, profit from their incarceration. Families are broken…
Dominant narratives are the reasons why systemic problems exist, because they are a reality that those in power have deemed acceptable or have been able to promote, unchecked.
Someone I spoke to recently held the opinion that a woman could not unseat a particular male Republican incumbent. This was not because they didn’t want a woman in this position, but because they did not think that this would be something that the community would ever choose.
I respected his opinion but came back at a later time to say that his opinion was a dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe, deep down, that your community will continue down such a path of exclusion, then they most certainly will.
I then began to preach:
If the Space Task Force at NASA believed they couldn’t make it to the moon, they wouldn’t have made it to the moon.
If the people of America believed that a black man could not be president, Barack Obama would not have been president.
If I was told by a man in Baton Rouge in 2016 on International Women’s Day that the people of Louisiana were not ready for a woman president…well, we all saw how that turned out.
We cannot let our negative opinions get in the way of positively impacting our communities. Such dissent programs a reality that does not improve. Such dissent creates a status quo, a dominant narrative, that perpetuates a systemic problem.
I’m not sure, exactly, how to fix all of the systemic problems I mentioned. But I have a hunch that it’s about taking a chisel to the dominant narrative and spreading truth the best we can.
I told my uncle not to despair. What people often forget is—apart from the immediate forces of nature—that they can program their own reality.
“Perception is reality,” he said.
I encouraged him further.
I said, “You believe in the power of narrative. That is why you went to film school. That is why you work at a local news station. And that is why you know what you’re doing and you’re doing it well. You are offering the world your most sincere truth. You’re doing the best you can.”
If we believe the world is going to Hell, well, our distress begins to pave the way for it to become Hell if we don’t change our attitude that our world could be anything else but.
Like hatred, Misinformation can too be defeated. Reprogrammed, even. We must give people our most sincere truth, at the local level. This is how change begins.
Because truth, is love. And love does not let falsities go unchecked.